When I was a kid, one of my favorite cartoons was “A Pup Named Scooby Doo.” It was a Scooby Doo spin-off where Scooby was still a puppy and the gang was in elementary school.
This show contains what is to this day one of my favorite running gags in television history. In every single episode, when the gang would learn that some variety of ghost or goblin was terrorizing somebody, team leader Fred would always announce that he knew the true identity of the spook: it was none other than neighborhood bully Red Herring.
Of course, it was never Red Herring, except for the one time that Fred didn’t accuse him of the crime. It was a few years before I understood the joke behind the bully’s name, but I was endlessly amused by Fred continually accusing this poor kid of crimes he did not — and in many cases could not — commit.
I think about this gag a lot, usually in the context of Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
During his tenure as President, Obama was blamed for so many things that “Thanks, Obama” became a running joke I still hear quoted to this day. Joe Biden has picked up the mantle since becoming President and is routinely blamed for everything from gas prices to county-level political decisions to, in all likelihood, particularly bad hangnails.
Most recently, I’ve heard him blamed for the situation at Mabry Mill.
For those who haven’t heard the sad news about this 100+ year old institution located on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Meadows of Dan, the folks who run Mabry Mill have reached the end of their ten year operating contract and will not be renewing in 2024. The National Park Service is going to begin seeking a new operator for the restaurant portion in 2024 with hope that the restaurant will reopen in 2025. In the meantime, a company called America’s National Parks will maintain operation of the gift shop and the mill itself when the site reopens in the spring.
Let me be the first to say that I’m very disappointed I won’t be able to eat any Mabry Mill buckwheat pancakes in the coming year. I’ve been a regular visitor to Mabry Mill since I was a tiny child. I’ll admit that I felt some charm was lost when they got rid of the lunch counter and the old-timers who used to sit there, but it’s still a cherished landmark.
No one knows why the operators decided not to renew their contract. The operators have declined to comment publicly and the National Park Service has not issued an explanation either. With no answers forthcoming, I’ve seen many social media users point their fingers squarely at the one evil mastermind who would surely delight in a rural restaurant depriving the public of pancakes for a year: Joe Biden!
The theory is that when Biden set the federal minimum wage at $15 an hour in 2022, it made it unprofitable to operate the restaurant. I doubt that’s the case, and it would also require us to ignore the fact that unions have been fighting for a $15 minimum wage for so long that after inflation, minimum wage should now be $24 per hour.
I’ve also heard social media users comment that the National Park Service should take over the restaurant, but unfortunately, they’re simply not set up to do that. It would be like the Henry County Board of Supervisors deciding to open a taxpayer-funded sports bar, an idea I mention only because I literally heard a dude make that suggestion during the public comment segment of a Board of Supervisors meeting some years ago. Additionally, the National Park Service can’t just make the restaurant stay open. A federal agency compelling someone to operate a restaurant against their will would, at the very least, be an example of government overreach, not to mention a pretty entertaining Supreme Court case.
I want to preface what comes next by saying that I have absolutely no idea why the Mabry Mill operators have chosen not to renew their contract, nor do I even know who the operators are. However, I can tell you why I personally would not renew that contract.
The first reason is that it’s a seasonal business and only operates between late spring and fall. It’s hard to make a steady income when your business is shuttered for nearly half the year.
Secondly, the dining area at Mabry Mill only seats 65 people. It’s consistently busy when it’s open — I can’t remember a time when I haven’t had to wait for a table — but if you can only seat 65 people, you NEED to be running full-tilt. That’s a very small number of seats for a restaurant that isn’t offering fine dining and the associated high prices.
But the final reason is the biggest one. If I decided to go into the restaurant business, I would never want to operate a restaurant within the confines of the National Park Service or any other federal agency.
That’s because if the federal government shuts down, your restaurant shuts down too, and there isn’t a thing you can do about it.
But have there been any recent politicians who seem untroubled by the prospect of a government shutdown, or perhaps even seem eager for it?
I can think of a few, and they ain’t Red Herring or Joe Biden.